Best of 2020: Top 5 Game Consoles

So here we are once again, in the launch year of proper “next-gen” consoles. The gaming world is in a wildly different place than it was in 2013 – as anyone who tried to get a pre-order on one of the new consoles can attest – and while that would’ve been the case even without a pandemic, it’s hard to look anywhere online at the volume of overall console demand in 2020 and call it run-of-the-mill. It feels like the Switch spent the entirety of 2020 breaking sales records, and we seemed to get an apology from a different gaming CEO every month apologising for the lack of some form of hardware stock.

So a few more people have videogame consoles in 2020, but which one had the best feature upgrades and exclusive games this year? Which one felt the most like this was its year? Yep, it’s time for this merry-go-round once again; this is my opinion on the Top 5 Game Consoles of 2020.

No, PC and mobile are not consoles.

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

VR BEST OF 2020 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is an utterly bizarre coincidence. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

5. Xbox Series X|S

LAST YEAR: N/A

Over the last month and a half I have not been shy about expressing how much I appreciate the new generation of Xbox consoles. They’re so fast to get anywhere or do anything; they’re compatible with mountains of games and accessories; they look sharp and modern; they love being connected to good screens and for the most part, they just work. However, right here at the starting line in 2020, it feels like the Xbox Series X and Series S can’t go anywhere on this list but at the bottom. I’ve always used two main factors to navigate console placement on the year-end list: fresh advances in the world of user features, and exclusive game releases. Microsoft has made both of those things quite irrelevant within the marketing pitch for their new consoles at this point in time, but more on that in a couple of paragraphs time.

I promise they’re great though. I had to pull myself away from playing my Xbox Series X to write this.

4. Playstation 5

LAST YEAR: N/A

Ugh, what an enticing bundle of contradictions the PS5 is right now. Playing a new game on this machine at the moment is an experience you cannot quite have on any other platform – the physical feedback enhancements within the super-comfortable Dualsense controller and the quietly revolutionary approach to SSD-based level loading take care of that. These attempts to push console gaming forward lift the PS5 off the bottom of this list. But right here and right now, there’s a decent list of software and UI problems for Sony to iron out before I’ll willingly spend more time with it for non-exclusive games. By the time you can walk into a store to buy one of these things – some time into 2021 no doubt – these issues should be mostly fixed up; but as a 2020 console it sure isn’t worth all the online hysteria and inflated prices resellers are charging.

Following the criteria of this list, the PS5 only has two exclusives so far: Demon’s Souls and Godfall. That’s also better than what the Xbox Series consoles have managed thus far, so fourth feels like the place to be for the very young PS5 this year.

3. Xbox One

LAST YEAR: 2nd

It’s weird to think about, but Microsoft’s much-publicised decision to blur the line between console generations and focus on services first makes the Xbox One a much heavier hitter on this list than its immediate successor, at least according to the criteria I’ve always used. As a platform that existed before 2020, the Xbox One received almost every improvement lying within the new Xbox UI update with which the newer consoles launched – carrying slightly quicker loading times as a bonus. It got every benefit of the new Xbox mobile app, including remote pre-downloads and the quick screenshot system. It can even use the new Xbox controller. At the time of writing, every game you can play on the Xbox Series X/S but not on a Playstation or Nintendo platform is also available on the Xbox One, and almost all of them (obviously) came to the One first. So this year I’m using them as points in the Xbox One’s favour.

Once again, there weren’t many, but the quality was there if you looked for it. Wasteland 3 is an unapologetically old-school western RPG with levels of depth rewarded with critical acclaim from the genre’s hardcore fans; cult multiplayer hit Deep Rock Galactic has created plenty of positive stories around players looking for camaraderie in a challenging year; Tell Me Why is a moody DONTNOD storytelling treat; Gears Tactics is meaty, polished, fresh and challenging; Grounded is well on its way to becoming another jewel in the Xbox multiplayer crown. They’re all on Game Pass too, which incidentally grew even better this year at picking stellar indie games with tons of tasty variety. Substantial content updates to Gears 5, State of Decay 2, Sea of Thieves, Forza Horizon 4 and even Halo: The Master Chief Collection continued to prove Xbox are the clear leaders in long-life platform exclusives. Sure, the next Halo got delayed and the wonderful new Ori game lost its exclusivity before the year was done, but the Xbox One has rarely sat prettier than it has in 2020 – last-gen console or not.

2. Nintendo Switch

LAST YEAR: 1st

In 2020, it’s hard to argue that there was a major game development nation affected more by the pandemic than Japan. But even before the lockdowns hit, this year was looking like the next in an increasingly long line of even-numbered “off-years” for Nintendo. The cadence of their major releases has seemed to bunch up into alternate mega-years for a while now, leading a Nintendo console to the top of this very list in 2013, 2017 and 2019 (with a second-place finish in 2015 to boot); this has tended to leave the intervening years a little light. 2020 started with almost no public roadmap for upcoming games, and all the workflow uncertainty in Japan shattered the widely-beloved Nintendo Direct structure to which we’ve all become so accustomed over the last decade.

But as off-years in pandemics go, the Switch didn’t have a lot to complain about. We could point to the meteoric success of the console’s new all-time top-seller Animal Crossing New Horizons and call it a day here, but the constant flow of really late game announcements throughout the year added up to quite a handy supporting cast. Paper Mario: The Origami King brought the series’ usual polarising fan arguments, but it’s the highest-rated game from that series in over a decade. Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition and Pikmin 3 Deluxe are transformative re-releases of criminally underappreciated all-time gems, presenting them in their best light and stacking on a ton of extra content. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a giant leap forward for the potential of musou games. Despite the weird release limitations on some of them, no one can say Mario’s 35th anniversary went by without a proper celebration – Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Super Mario 35 and Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit took care of that.

Nintendo continued to get amongst the budget digital-only business in 2020 with the well-received Part Time UFO and Good Job!, demolished expectations with the slick fun of 51 Worldwide Games and finally added all three SNES DK Country games to the Switch Online service, then ended the year with one of the most substantial hardware feature updates the Switch has seen. There were almost no major 2020 indie releases that left the underpowered Switch behind, many released as timed exclusives on the platform – oh, and I might have buried the lead here, but it’s the only console where you can currently play Hades, so…

1. Playstation 4

LAST YEAR: 3rd

The writing was on the wall throughout last year: Sony’s fourth home console generation was biding its time and gearing up for a spectacular final year in the limelight. Just as the PS3 shone brightly in 2013 before welcoming its successor, the Playstation 4 bolted out of the blocks in 2020 with the long-awaited release of Media Molecule’s Dreams to kick off what you might call an unnecessarily showy victory lap. Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s April release felt like a huge achievement after its torrid development history, even if it was overshadowed by the opening salvo of lockdowns around the world. Despite enough delays to give Cyberpunk 2077 a run for its money, The Last of Us Part II eventually arrived in June and owned the gaming conversation (for better or worse) for a solid month until the absolutely stellar Ghost of Tsushima arrived as a poetic bookend for Sucker Punch, developers of PS4 launch-window hit Infamous Second Son.

Marketing lightning somehow struck twice when the magic of 2016’s PS Plus masterstroke Rocket League repeated with Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. The Playstation 4 was the only console you could play it on – and you can say the same for runaway open-world gacha sensation Genshin Impact. Throw in the punishing but polished Nioh 2 while you’re at it. Playstation might have lost its generations-long hold on the Yakuza franchise in 2020, but it was still the only place you could play three of the year’s very best Japanese storytelling experiences: Sakura Wars, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, and of course Persona 5 Royal. The beloved PSN Trophy system got its first shake-up in almost a decade, and the massively improved, PS5-optimised mobile app made the PS4’s long-in-the-tooth UI more engaging to manage as well. Closing out the year with Spider-Man: Miles Morales was overkill, really; the PS4’s last year as Sony’s main console was perhaps a hair away from being its best ever.

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

Honorable Mentions

–Nintendo 3DS

Am I a joke to you?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: